Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Billowing clouds of incense

What is a pilgrim?

This is the question Nicole asked, as we settled into shaded nooks with a cafe con leche or a cup of tinto with people from every country and from every story.

And it is my question now, as I share a tiny table, two grapefruit, and the ubiquitous cafe con leche with a beautiful German girl who wears her art rather than hang it on the wall. She is in the light now, after we prayed Revelations 3:20 together this morning. Never again alone, always in His love, forever and ever along The Way of life.

And from my seat, with the ever appropriate bar background soundtrack of How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You, I am watching pilgrim after pilgrim turn the corner into the last little stretch to the Cathedral steps and there is no way to explain the joy radiating from every tired step. A sturdy Asian with his Jack Daniel's t-shirt, an obvious mother and son biking combo, the German with blond dreads, the bearded guy in a red and black plaid shirt, the older woman, sort of my age, leaning heavily on her staff and big bandaged feet, but that same radiance.

A pilgrim is someone who decided that, alone, on his own strength and plans and schedules, I Can't Get No Satisfaction, and he leaves it all, and turns toward Celestial City.

And most of the answers to my question, Why did you decide to walk The Way, are along the lines of, "I just knew I had to do it." There was the Spanish brother and sister whose other sister had been walking El Camino one week at a time, each vacation, and when she died suddenly, they quit their jobs and walked out their doors. As I hugged the sister goodbye, she whispered over and over, "I believe." The young free runner who in one day decided, bought a bike and a pack, and headed up The Way backwards. At the alburgue dinner Nicole had a word for the Dutchman, something about a lighthouse shining strong through the years, who began weeping and said, "because you have said this, I know you know Truth, and I will tell you why I am on this Way.” The cynical businessman next to muttered with an awed whispered, “An angel is here with us,” as every single person at the table filled with bean soup, crusty bread, and tinto bottles, watched this man transform before our eyes, dropping his heavy burden at the cross of Jesus. And in the morning, Nicole flagged a blessing and prayed with him again as he picked up his staff and adjusted his now light pack, and he left, tucking one of my father's little Bibles into his pocket, declaring with peace and joy, "I now know Truth." And the cyclist who rode with us for a morning, on his second Camino to remember how God had met him the first time, a broken drunken lost soul, and given him a wonderful wife. He never wanted to forget Him who he met on this Way.

Now a group of teenagers all wearing matching red shirts has turned the corner, and are soaking their feet in the shell fountain. And there is a kinda crazy looking old lady with a baseball cap hugging a black hipster with tight red pants and a good camera. And the very confident soul striding past with mirrored sunglasses, not even needing to ask directions. But the two Swedish girls pause, just to make sure.

And I, with Nicole's open Bible and journal in front of me was just interrupted in my thoughts by a man from New Zealand with such a thick accent I could barely understand him.

"Excuse me. Do you speak English? May I sit here? I want to tell someone what just happened to me on El Camino. I met God.

And he told me his story, although I couldn't exactly understand everything. And he was one who only believed the material world and his own hard work. He would hear people speak of spiritual things, and he wouldn't understand it, or would think that they were just lazy or weak, incapable of doing life on their own. And just on the top of the last mountain before Santiago, El Monte de Gozo, he met God.

But now what do I do? How can this change my life? How will things not be the same?

And I had the great joy of reading to him the invitation of Jesus: Behold I stand at the door and knock. And a lovely young professional Spanish pilgrim joined in the conversation. Only she only spoke Spanish, and he English, so became focused on the translating, and not the actual ideas, when in the middle of a sentence I realized that she said that my face was so radiant that it was obvious that I had been with Jesus.

And that was my prayer from what seems so long ago, that in spite of my tangled syntax and my clumsy ways, that they might say of me, "She has been with Jesus."

And I found Nicole at the Pilgrim's Mass in the great Cathedral Santiago a Compostela, and somehow the German girl found us as well. And together we worshiped. We asked forgiveness of sins, we greeted one another in peace, thousands from all over the world, and we gave offerings. And we heard that following Jesus is not about saying a few words or a special prayer, but He has called us to be perfect even as He is perfect. And this is not an easy Way, but He is beside us each step. As we live a life of forgiving our enemies, and blessing those who curse us, even as He has forgiven us. And we shared communion, the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine, Do this in remembrance of Me.

And the famous incense burner was lifted up by six strong young men, representing our prayers of thanksgiving and worship, and an iridescent glory sifted down through the crowds. A weeping and hugging and radiant crowd.

Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.

Seraphim and cherubim, all the saints adore Thee
God in three persons
Blessed Trinity